Girl Calls Principal 'Douchebag': First Amendment in Schools
This month, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the "Douchebag Case."
That is, they ruled on whether or not a highschooler who called her school administrators "douchebags" online had her First Amendment Rights violated when the "douchebags" reprimanded her. The case brings to light crucial issues of regarding the First Amendment in schools, a growing issue of concern particularly with the increasing use of social media and cyberbullying.
While this case was not a cyberbulling case, it did have elements of teenage misconduct and the authority of schools to reprimand such behavior when it occurs, even off-campus.
According to the New Haven Advocate, in 2007, Avery Doninger wrote a blog post on Livejournal.com where she called school Principal Karissa Niehoff and Superintendent Paula Schwartz "douchebags" for pulling the plug on the school's battle of the bands. Her blog post called for action, asking fellow students to "piss off" the administrators.
The administrators retaliated by banning Doninger from reelection as senior class secretary. The administrators went further to ban "Team Avery" t-shirts worn on election day and ignored the write-in votes on the student ballots.
While her case for injunction eventually became moot upon her 2008 graduation, Doninger and her mother sued for monetary damages arguing that her constitutional right of free speech was violated.
In its decision, the three-judge panel of the Second Circuit found that Doninger's behavior was "potentially disruptive to student government functions" and as such, ruled that the administrators were within their rights to penalize her.
As notes the 2nd Circuit Court in its opinion, "the constitutional rights of students in public school 'are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings.'"
So, essentially, kids can't run amuck in schools, can they?
Not at all, in fact, schools are well within their rights to take steps to safeguard their students from a variety of dangers, say the courts. The Second Circuit has upheld decisions where schools allegedly infringed on "off-campus" speech, where that speech threatened to disupt the discipline of the school.
So in the age of Facebook, Twitter and cyberbullying, we'll likely be seeing many more cases like this. And with Avery Doninger's attorney threatening to take this case to the Supreme Court, we might even see more of Ms. Doninger.
- Doninger v. Niehoff, Schwartz et al (FindLaw)
- First Amendment Resources (FindLaw)
- Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist (FindLaw Cases)
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